The Equinox Convergence is Erik Orrantia’s second book and follows on the heels of his Lambda Literary Award winning novel Normal Miguel. The seasonal equinox – a balance between equal parts of light and darkness – serves as the metaphor for this incredibly gripping mystery suspense thriller that delves into the human capacity for both good and evil and how given certain circumstances and motivations, seemingly decent people can be drawn into the depths of darkness. The fictitious rural Mexican town of Carritza located 120 kilometres north of Acapulco in the Province of Guerrero, and the neighbouring Ejido Mapolombampo the indigenous village of the Núkul Tribe and the Tribe’s adjoining traditional lands are the main settings for this story where worlds collide – that of Mexico’s drug trade and traditional indigenous life.
Atua is of the Núkul Tribe and the adopted daughter of At’tansa Ikana (Revered One), the Núkul’s healer and spiritual leader. Although the Tribe is patrilineal and by tradition the title of curandera (shaman) falls to the male line, Atua seeks to follow in her father’s footsteps and become the spiritual guide of her people. Her father encourages this by imparting Núkul teachings and practices and including her in traditional ceremonies so that she may learn and grow to fulfil her aspirations and destiny.
Bennie is a young man who works at the El Pueblito ice-making shop supplying the Town of Carritza and neighbouring communities with ice. But he wants more out of life; to have more money in his pocket; to be more than an ice-maker; to live a different kind of life. As a means of achieving his dreams, Bennie along with his work mate Poste run drugs for Saul a drug lab supervisor who works for Tio Che, a powerful and mysterious drug lord. But with the government’s latest crackdown in the war against drugs and in response to police corruption, the military is dispatched to Carritza to break the ring of drug manufacturing and stop the flow of trafficking and Bennie quickly realizes that he is trapped in a world from which there is no escape. Bennie’s drug runs take him through Núkul territory and his world collides with that of Atua’s placing them both in mortal danger.
The opening scene in this novel is a jolting one and with each chapter the mystery and suspense is incrementally and continuously heightened plunging the reader into a page-turning web of intrigue and suspense as the story unfolds. The author achieves this with chapters that are relatively short in length and by alternating the first person perspective amongst and between Atua and Bennie and the story’s multitude of recurring and occasional secondary characters. Although Atua and Bennie are the primary characters in this tale, it is truly an ensemble cast and each character holds a certain piece of the story’s puzzle, which they slowly reveal with each chapter through their respective narratives.
This has the effect of continuously maintaining a tautness of suspense as to what will happen next and eventually the multiple perspectives converge to reveal the mystery. It also serves as a means of providing the reader with a wealth of insight into each character’s back story, motivations and actions thereby bringing a fundamental understanding of who these characters are and enabling the reader to establish a level of empathy, if not outright compassion in certain cases, for characters such as Bennie and Saul even when they are committing unspeakable acts in their desperation to survive. In this, I have yet to come across an author with such an innate talent and ability for writing multiple voices and perspectives in such a distinctively concise manner as Mr. Orrantia. We get a glimpse of this aspect of his writing in Normal Miguel, but, in my opinion, the in-the-round multiple character perspective technique employed in The Equinox Convergence is taken to an altogether higher level of writing.
Mr. Orrantia has publicly stated his need to write about his adopted country of Mexico and in The Equinox Convergence he continues to illustrate the facets of Mexican life. Through his writing the author demonstrates an intrinsic knowledge and understanding of the political, social, economic and cultural dimensions of this country and its peoples. He has written Mexico’s world of drug trade with an unnerving sense of realism, depicting its brutality and violence with a sobering and stark honesty. This coupled with his firm grasp of rural life in Mexico and the divide between socio-economic affluence and disparity, the author deftly nuances the links between poverty and the lure of the drug economy. Equally, his writing of indigenous life through the fictitious Núkul Tribe, which is a synthesis of the ethno-cultural, linguistic and spiritual ways of life of several indigenous nations in Mexico, resonates as respectful and authentic without the stereotypical romanticisation or voice appropriation too often experienced in fiction written about indigenous peoples by non-indigenous authors. Atua emerges as a foundational and well-nuanced character in this respect because she represents a level of universality in indigenous perspectives and voices in reaction to colonialism and its destruction of indigenous ways of life. Atua also emerges as foundational to the underlying theme of the story and the character through which the other characters are measured in respect of the balance of light and darkness.
Even though he does not have a multitude of published works, it is not difficult to understand why Mr. Orrantia is an award-winning author. The writing in The Equinox Convergence emerges as uniquely Orrantia – exceptional prose, descriptions that are rich and intricate but that do not intrude, an in depth understanding of, and sensitivity to, the complexities and diversity of Mexico and superb characterization. I was completely and utterly engrossed in this mystery suspense thriller to such a degree that I lost track of my place in the story and did not realise that I had come to the final page of the book, which ends in a masterfully written cliff-hanger. The story and characters in this novel continue to linger and I await the sequel with great anticipation. Most highly recommended.